6. How successful was Reconstruction?


In 1865 a triumphant federal government faced the problem of 'reconstruction' - of making peace and restoring the Confederate states to the Union.  However, this was to prove very problematic; it created direct conflict between the President and Congress and historians still debate as to whether Reconstruction can be seen as a success or a failure.

Guiding questions:

What were the major challenges of Reconstruction?

What were the presidential and congressional plans for Reconstruction?

Why was President Johnson impeached?

How did the South resist reconstruction? Who were the 'Redeemers'?

How successful was Reconstruction?


What is the message of this cartoon from the British Punch magazine, 1865? Which side do you think that the cartoonist feels most sympathy with?

1. What were the major challenges of Reconstruction?


1. Watch the first part of the video below (Reconstruction: The Second Civil War Part 1) from 5 minutes until 21 minutes.

Task One

ATL: Thinking and communication skills

Bearing in mind what you have seen and heard on the video, and your knowledge of the end of the civil war, brainstorm  the kinds of issues/problems that would have to be addressed in any plan for Reconstruction and the difficulties that the North would face in restoring the Confederate states to the Union.

Divide your points under the themes social issues, economic issues and political issues.

Click on the eye for hints once you have discussed these issues.

Social issue: What will happen to the newly Freed slaves? How will they earn a living? How will they become educated?

Political issue: How can the Southern states be reintegrated into the Union? Should they be punished? Will military force be needed to keep the peace?

Economic issue: How can the South return to prosperity after the ravages of the war?

There was also a Constitutional issue: Who should have the authority to reconstruct the nation? Is it the job of the President or of Congress or both?

2. What were the presidential and congressional plans for Reconstruction?

The period from 1865 to 1877 is often called the ‘age of Reconstruction’. However, Reconstruction was not something that began in 1865: it was an issue from 1861 onwards and was really what the war had been fought about.

It was  after the major Union victories at the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg in 1863 that Abraham Lincoln began to consider how to reunify the North and South after the war had finished. The Ten-Percent plan, known formally as the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction was issued on December 8, 1863. The idea was to find enough loyal citizens to form a new state government. But what constituted ‘enough’?

Task One

ATL: thinking skills

Watch the first 7 minutes of this lecture by Tom Army.

  1. Write down the key features of Lincoln's Ten-Percent plan.
  2. What was not mentioned in the plan?
  3. What was Lincoln's attitude towards allowing African-Americans a vote in the new constitutions of the South?
  4. What was the attitude of Congress to Lincoln's Plan?

Lincoln aimed through his plan to shorten the war by offering a moderate peace plan which might encourage weary Confederate soldiers to surrender; it would also further his emancipation policy. Lincoln believed (possible naively) that there was a substantial pro-Union population in the South and so believed that ten per cent would be the tip of the iceberg.  He therefore had faith that the South would no longer be controlled by the plantation owners and would be fair in reconstruction.

Was the plan too lenient?

Certainly radical Republicans such as Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner and Benjamin Wade considered the plan as too lenient on the South. They believed that the South had started the war and so should be punished accordingly; they feared that the planter aristocracy would be restored and that African Americans would be forced back into slavery. Many of these Republicans argued that African Americans should be allowed to vote; some also stressed their political motivation in wanting this -  suffrage for ex-slaves would allow the Republicans to remain supreme.

However there are arguments that suggest that Lincoln’s Ten-Percent plan was not too lenient:

  • Slavery was ended and slaves confiscated
  • Lincoln seemed to be moving towards African Americans having equality before the law in 1865 and, as you saw in the video above, talked of giving the vote to those who fought for the Union
  • As stated in his second inaugural address, he sought ' malice towards none' and a 'just and lasting peace'; this indicated not weakness or leniency but honest and honourable aims

Seeing reconstruction as a Presidential matter and not a Congressional one was, for Lincoln, a valid constitutional position and was not aimed at preventing Radical Republicans a say.

Task Two

ATL: Thinking and communication skills

Silent debate

Based on the information above, and your own further research, discuss in pairs how lenient you feel Lincoln’s policy was towards the South.

Now that you have looked at the arguments for both sides, conduct a silent debate on the issue.

One side of the room will argue that he was lenient on the South and the other said will say he wasn’t; however, you will not argue this out loud - rather you will write evidence on the paper on the desks to support your statement.

You will then swap round and argue against the points on the other side; write your responses and do not make a sound!

The fact that Lincoln was assassinated on 14th April 1865 means that we do not know where Lincoln was going with his plan. He did seem to be moving cautiously towards the view that African Americans should have equality and possibly the vote, if they had fought in the war. However, he was generous when it came to punishment of Confederate leaders due to his aims of  ‘malice towards none’ and of ‘just and lasting peace’. He left a cabinet that was divided on a host of Reconstruction matters. 

Wade-Davis Plan

Radical opposition to Lincoln’s Ten-Percent Plan resulted in two Republicans, Henry Davis and Benjamin Wade, drawing up a bill in which fifty per cent of the people in a Confederate States would have to take an ‘ironclad oath’ that they had never voluntarily supported the rebellion.  Only then would a state be allowed to re-enter the union.  This was not a highly radical measure and it passed easily through both houses of Congress; however it was vetoed by Lincoln.  There was clear disagreement between President and Congress and this would only increase when Andrew Johnson became President following Lincoln’s assassination.

3. Why was President Johnson impeached?

"Sir, the bloody and untilled fields of the ten unreconstructed States, the unsheeted ghosts of the two thousand murdered negroes in Texas, cry...for the punishment of Andrew Johnson." Rep. William D. Kelley, calling for impeachment of Andrew Johnson


Task One

ATL: Thinking skills

In pairs, read the information below about Johnson. Why was there likely to be conflict between Johnson and the radical Republicans?

Task Two

ATL: Thinking skills

Continue watching the video on Reconstruction above. Start from  21 minutes  and answer the questions. (click on the eye or download the PDF)

  1. Give three facts about Andrew Johnson.
  2. What was Johnson’s view on African Americans?
  3. What happened on the Sea Islands after the war?
  4. What was the role of the Freedmen’s Bureau?
  5. On 29th May 1865 Johnson announced his plan for Reconstruction of which he believed that white men alone must manage the South. What was his plan?
  6. What approach did he take with African Americans?
  7. How did he handle the Planter aristocracy?
  8. Who led the Radical Republicans?
  9. What was their plan for Reconstruction?
  10. How did the moderate Republicans feel about the Radicals?
  11. How many back Americans were literate before the war?
  12. Why did they see education and learning how to read and write important?
  13. The number of schools quickly increased across the South. Who set them up?
  14. Why did Johnson abandon his plan with the plantation aristocracy?
  15. How many were pardoned and what impact did this have?
  16. What happened to African Americans when their former owners returned?
  17. How did they feel as a result of this?
  18. In Louisiana, how many acres of land were leased to African Americans by the Freedmen Bureau, believing they would eventually own it?
  19. What was a concern in both the North and the South with regards to the cotton fields?
  20. How were labour contracts viewed by white Southerners?
  21. What would happen if an African American was to ask for more?
  22. In 1865 how many African American men, women and children were murdered in Louisiana alone?
  23. The South also brought in the ‘Black Codes’; what were they?
  24. Why did this cause a dilemma for the Northern Republicans?
  25. In December 1865. the 39th Congress convened. How many former Confederates tried to take their seat?
  26. What happened on the opening day?
  27. What did the Congressional committee find in response to what was happening in the South?
  28. What happened in March 1866?
  29. How did Johnson react?
  30. How did the moderate Republicans act?
  31. What was the 14th Amendment?
  32. What opposition did it face?
  33. How did Johnson react?
  34. Across the South, African American political conventions took place pushing for black suffrage. In New Orleans African Americans vowed for the right to vote and white militants prepared to stamp them out. Johnson ignored it. What happened on midday 30th July 1866?
  35. During the mid-term election 1866 Johnson carried out ‘speaking tours’ to try and gain support. Why are they considered a disaster?
  36. What was the result of the election?
  37. What was the Radical Reconstruction plan which was passed in 1867?
  38. How many votes stopped Johnson from being impeached?
  39. How many African American troops were based in the South at this time?
  40. How did the South feel about the rise of African Americans and their presence in both office and the army?

Task Three

ATL: Thinking skills

1. In pairs review the powers that the US constitution gives to the President and to Congress.

2. Review the key events that affected the relationship between President Johnson and Congress from your video notes. This timeline will help you review these key events.

3. Also read this article from Politico on the clash between the President and Congress. Make note on the areas of conflict.

You should also watch the rest of the lecture above by Tom Army.

3. In pairs, consider the question below. Copy out the grid and complete with relevant evidence.

4. What is your overall conclusion?

Task Four

ATL: Thinking and communication skills

You have been assigned to either the defence or the prosecution of President Johnson. Johnson has been brought in for impeachment proceedings as the House of Representatives claim that he has committed ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’. Specifically, Johnson is impeached for:

The removal of the Secretary of War Stanton from office and not cooperating with Congress

You will need to argue either:

A: Johnson did operate within his powers and he did try to work with Congress. It is in fact Congress who ‘ganged up’ and were not prepared to work with him.

B: Johnson operated beyond his powers and that he continued to try and block Congress at every turn.

The Task:

When writing your speech, consider each of the following the key events leading up to impeachment (click on the eye); decide how it could be used to support your argument. Also consider what the opposition will say on this point. (You can use the grid below to help you with this)

Johnson announces plan for reconstruction
Reconstruction ‘Confederate style’: Black Codes
Reconstruction ‘Confederate style’: Union restored
13th Amendment
Congress vs. Johnson: Attempts to extend the powers of the Freedmen’s Bureau
Civil Rights Act of 1866
14th Amendment sent
Race Riots
1866 mid-term elections: Republicans gain 2/3 majority
Congress divides South through Military Reconstruction Act

You will now need to write up and present your case to support your statement on whether it is right for Johnson to be impeached or not

Choose lawyers for both sides and conduct the trial. Your teacher will act as the judge to decide which side is most convincing

Grid to help with planning speech

Task Five

ATL: Thinking skills

As a class, discuss the following questions. Write up your answers.

  1. Do you think Johnson operated beyond his powers? Explain your answer.
  1. Overall, who do you think was responsible for the problems with Reconstruction between 1865-1868? Explain your answer.

3. Overall, do you think Johnson should be impeached on the charges outlined above?

Task Six

ATL: Thinking skills

(The text reads:  Naughty Andy: "Don't take that physic, Sis, it's nasty - kick his shins." Mrs. Columbia: "My dear Andy, don't be a bad boy, don't interfere - Dr. Congress knows what's best for Sissy.")
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, July 13, 1867

What is the message of this cartoon? 

4. How did the South resist reconstruction? Who were the 'Redeemers'


The white population in the former Confederate States did not welcome reconstruction.  Former Confederates could not vote or hold office and the South came under the control of new groups which elected Republican leaders throughout the South.

Most of these leaders had not held office before; some were Northerners who came South after the war - known as carpetbaggers because they carried a carpetbag or small suitcase. Many Southerners believed the carpetbaggers were corrupt Northerners who had come to make a fortune in the South.

Other new White leaders were Southerners who had stayed loyal to the Union; they were hated by the Confederates and known as scalawags or rascals.

In this situation, the majority of the white population resisted the reconstruction policies through different methods.  The Democrat Party led political opposition while violent resistance to improving black civil rights was carried out by groups such as the KKK and the Red Shirts. The Redeemers were a faction of the Democratic Party.

Task One

ATL: Thinking skills

Before we start looking at the Redeemers, we need to know what is meant by the term ‘Redemption’ in this context.

  • Think: For 1 minute, you are going to silently consider what you think ‘redemption’ means in this context.
  • Pair: Now, for another minute you will compare your thoughts with the person next to you, and add anything different from what they have
  • Share: Now we will share your ideas, and see if together, we can work out what is meant by ‘redemption’ in this context.

In the context of Southern politics, the term Redemption refers to the overthrow or defeat of Radical Republicans (White and Black) by white Democrats, marking the end of the Reconstruction era in the South. In addition to its biblical allusions, the term also reflects the widely held belief among white Southerners of the time that the Republican state regimes had been inefficient and corrupt; also that the "Redeemers" who re-established white Democratic control of the state also restored effective and honest government.

Task Two

ATL: Thinking skills

In pairs, consider why there would be resistance to Reconstruction in the South.

Click on the eye below for hints.

Rank these reasons according to which you think are most important/valid

As you go through the next section, add evidence to support each of these motives.

1.Racist attitudes
2.Economic problems
3.Response to corruption
4.Idea of ‘home-rule’ (similar to state rights)
5.Determination to resist Northern military occupation.

Task Two

ATL: Thinking skills

Watch Part Two of the documentary 'Reconstruction' from 4 minutes until one hour fifteen minutes. Answer the questions (click on the eye).

  1. What happeed in the fall of 1867?
  2. How did many white senators react?
  3. Where did Tunis Campbell win his seat?
  4. What did the white Southerners find once they had returned to their once confiscated lands?
  5. What is sharecropping?
  6. What was happening in New Orleans in the fall of 1867 and why was it an exciting time?
  7. What was a carpetbagger?
  8. What happened in the summer of 1868 at the Georgia state legislature?
  9. What happened to Tunis Campbell and the other African American members?
  10. 1868 saw the first presidential election since the war and was a battle for Reconstruction. Who was the Democrat nominations and what was their motto?
  11. Where was this popular in the North?
  12. What did they want to do about Reconstruction?
  13. Why did many people sway towards Grant in the election?
  14. What was his slogan?
  15. What was his view on Reconstruction?
  16. What was the Northern economy like during this period?
  17. How many African American people voted for Grant and why?
  18. How did Grant help Tunis and the expelled black legislatures from Georgia?
  19. Who was John Lynch and what did he want to achieve?
  20. How many new schools were created in Mississippi within a year?
  21. Who was now expected to pay for the new hospitals and railways to be built?
  22. How did white people react to this and what happened?
  23. What was the ‘Negro rule’?
  24. What secret societies started to emerge in the South?
  25. When was the KKK organised and what did they believe?
  26. What happened in October 1869?
  27. What happened in October 1871 and what was the consequence?
  28. How did the North react?
  29. What was Grant’s approach towards the situation and why?
  30. What happened in the fall of 1871?
  31. How did the South feel about this?
  32. What happened in March 1873?
  33. What also happened in early 1873?
  34. What was the reaction?
  35. What happened in the fall 1873?
  36. What impact did have on the cause of African Americans?
  37. Why were the North starting to grow more sympathetic of white ideas in the South?
  38. What was the ‘lost cause’?
  39. What happened to the Democrats during this period?.
  40. What did the South call this?
  41. How were many of the elections won?
  42. Why did white people not stop this?
  43. Who started to flock to the plantations in Florida, Virginia and Georgia and why?
  44. What was the Coushatta Massacre?
  45. What was the reaction to this?
  46. What do the White League do on September 14th?
  47. How did Grant react?
  48. How did people respond to this action?
  49. What was happening in early 1875?
  50. What was the 1875 Civil Rights Bill and how effective was it?
  51. What was happening back in Mississippi?
  52. What does Grant do?

Task Two

ATL: Research and thinking skills

Research the following groups:

  • Ku Klux Klan
  • Knights of the White Camelia
  • White League
  • Red Shirts

Using your notes, identify the similarities and differences  between these groups. You could show this in diagram form.

Task Three

ATL: Research and self-management skills

Go to the Facing History site and watch the video on this page.

Also read this section on History.com

Using this information, copy out and complete the following mind map:

Task Four

ATL: Thinking and self-management skills

Watch the following Crash Course video from 6.40 to 10 minutes

Make notes the key impact of white supremacist groups

5. How successful was Reconstruction?

 'The South surrendered at Appomattox but the North has been surrendering ever since'

A Republican carpetbagger 1877

Reconstruction has been considered the 'second civil war' due to the amount of violence in the Southern states directed at African Americans. It can be seen that ultimately Reconstruction failed as it ended in 1877 with President Hayes making a compromise whereby the Southern Democrats were handed control of the Southern States, Federal troops were withdrawn and the gains in African American civil rights were removed and replaced with segregation.  However, it must be remembered that in particular the 1868 and 1872 elections saw unprecedented numbers of African American voters and election of unprecedented number of African American representatives. 

Social consequences

Two separate communities existed in the Reconstruction period in the South.  The white community largely kept itself separate from the freedmen.  There were organizations such as the Freedman’s Bureau that worked with the African American community to try and help in the early stages following emancipation including education, building churches and reuniting families that had been split up during slavery.  

Society was highly divided and groups such as the KKK terrorized the African American community and anyone who helped or who worked with them.

Political consequences

The Political complexion of the South changed dramatically during in the Reconstruction period.  Southern States, before returning to the Union fully, were under the control of Confederates who imposed laws such as ‘Black Codes’ with the support of President Johnson. As Congress took greater control of Reconstruction and States re-entered the Union they did so with the full impact of the 14th and 15th Amendments meaning that the Republicans controlled the states and also there were significant numbers of African American representatives elected to state legislatures.

Elections in the South however were marred by violence and fraud as you seen in the video.  In Louisiana after 1872, for example, both Republicans and Democrats set up governments.  The Republican government was backed by Federal troops and African American militia.  The Democrat Government was aided by the White League.  Thirty people were killed in 1874 in a battle between troops of the two governments.

While Grant’s Force Acts in the early 1870s had reduced the power of the KKK they failed to deal with the rifle clubs and groups such as the Red Shirts in South Carolina.  With growing apathy in the North and continued violence in the South the Democrats were able to regain control (or ‘redeem’)  the Southern states.  As the Southern states gained Democrat state governments the previous political gains of the African Americans of those states were removed.


Readmitted to Union

Democrat Government

























North Carolina



South Carolina






In 1868 the South had been divided into 5 military districts and Federal troops were stationed in the South in an attempt to stop violence against African Americans especially during elections.  Part of the Compromise of 1877 saw the removal of these troops. The loss of black political rights in the South was immediate and lasted for almost 90 years.  States such as South Carolina went from having a black majority in its State legislature (reflecting the population) to having no black representation.  Poll taxes, literacy and other tests as well as ‘Grandfather clauses’ were used to stop black people from voting.


There were significant economic problems during the Reconstruction Period most notably in the South.  While the North’s economy had been stimulated by the Civil War with significant demand generated fueling a growth in Northern industry, in the South there was much more fighting and destruction and the demand for cotton collapsed as countries such as Britain found new supplies.

The economy was particularly badly hit following the economic crisis of 1873.  This hit both the North and South.  One significant impact of this was that, faced with economic problems at home, many in the North lost interest in Reconstruction and focused more on economic issues.  The economic problem also damaged the standing of Grant and the Republican Party.  Grant’s administration was damaged by accusations of corruption and lack of competency in managing the economy.  The South was badly affected by the fact that cotton prices fell by almost 50%.

In the South a new economic model was needed following the end of slavery.  The freed population needed work and very few had received land as redistribution had been very limited.  The white land owners had land but needed to generate income from this land.  Sharecropping emerged by which people (normally but not exclusively former slaves) worked the land growing cotton for a share of the crop when the cotton was sold.  The landowner would supply them with food, accommodation and materials, the charge for these would then come out of the sharecroppers share of the crop.  African American sharecroppers were often living in former slave accommodation, working similar hours and under strict contracts. African American sharecroppers were often exploited and could even end up in debt after a year's work as they were underpaid for the cotton and over charged for accommodation and food.

Even though most states had been 'redeemed' well before the 1876 election, the election is still often seen as the end of Reconstruction. With the issues Grant had faced since his last election, and the rise in Democrat control in the South (which was also marked by their dominance in the 1874 mid-term election), the election was not  going to be clear cut.

Task One

ATL: Thinking skills

1. Watch these two videos by HipHughs

Also watch the end of the Reconstruction video above from one hour 15 minutes

Now discuss these questions:

1. To what extent was the outcome of the election was predictable?

 2. What impact did the election and the compromise have on:

•The South
•The Democrat Party
•The Republican Party
•African Americans

3. Overall, do you think a fair compromise was reached considering the situation at the time?

In assessing the overall impact of Reconstruction, and whether it can be considered a success, it is important to reflect on the aims of Reconstruction.

If we go back to the beginning, Reconstruction is the term used to describe the problem of restoring the Confederate states to the Union, as well as to rebuild the southern government, society, infrastructure and economy after the war.

Task Two

ATL: Thinking and communication skills

It is clear that one of the big successes of Reconstruction was that did achieve the aim of restoring the Union. However, as we know Reconstruction was more than this and not everything was positive. Your task is to now work out exactly what could be considered a success and what was a failure.

In pairs draw up a list of successes and a list of failures. Consider the following:

  • Freedmen’s Bureau
  • Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth Amendment
  • Lincoln’s Plan
  • Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
  • Radical Republican Plan
  • African Americans get elected to Senate and Congress
  • Military Districts
  • Carpetbaggers
  • Share croppers
  • Jim Crow
  • Black Codes
  • KKK
  • Compromise of 1877
2. Using your discussions above, now group the successes and failures under the headings:
  • Economic
  • Social
  • Political

2. Discuss how successful overall you consider Reconstruction to have been.

(For extra discussion on the impact of Reconstruction, read this article from the Washington Monthly magazine)

3. Do you agree with this verdict of Eric Foner: 'Whether measured by the dreams inspired by emancipation or the more limited goals of securing blacks' rights as citizens...Reconstruction can only be judged a failure'?

Task Three

ATL: Thinking skills

Read this article by the historian Allen C. Guelzo which summarises the views of his book Reconstruction: A concise history.

What arguments does he give that Reconstruction was not a total failure?

 Task Four

ATL: Thinking skills

Watch this video of the historian Eric Fonner.

Make notes on the historiography of Reconstruction; what different conclusions have historians have reached about Reconstruction?



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